SI SPENCER, OCT 2017
A trivial tour of the road and foot crossings over the Thames
LONDON BRIDGE is roughly at the site of the very first true manmade Thames crossing, the Roman edifice that led to the marshes of the area slowly developing into an important city. Obviously, that fell down. London Bridge has a reputation for that. At least five wooden bridges were built in the hundreds of years that followed the Roman’s departure, all of which were either destroyed by war, tornado or fire. The first stone bridge to be built on the site was commissioned by Henry II as penitence for him ordering his brutal hit on Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. The centre of the bridge was a chapel consecrated in Becket’s honour, though on the whole I think he’d have preferred just not to be stabbed to death. By Tudor times, the bridge boasted over 200 buildings – shops, churches, houses, taverns – and not one but two multiple-user ‘long-drop’ bench latrines where pedestrians could squat directly over the Thames. The current bridge was built in 1972 after its predecessor was sold to an American millionaire and shipped brick by brick to Arizona. Contrary to urban myth, the buyer knew exactly what he was purchasing and was not under the impression he was buying Tower Bridge.
SOUTHWARK BRIDGE is a bit of a movie star too, featuring in ‘Lock Stock…’, ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ and ‘Mary Poppins’.
TOWER BRIDGE was built as a result of a competition to create a bridge that would link the two sides of the city as they both expanded eastwards but still allow heavy shipping traffic through. In 1912, only nine years after the first airplane flight, pilot and nutjob Frank McClean flew his biplane between the walkways and the bridge itself. Chuffed with his confidence, he continued down the river, flying under every bridge all the way to Westminster before crashing into the Thames on his return attempt. Several other pilots have braved the gap since but the fastest was and loudest had to be in 1968 when Flight Lieutenant Alan Pollock who took a stolen Hawker Harrier jump jet through the bridge in protest against RAF cuts. He got a court martial, making his own cut to their ranks.